Mocan and Green Grout is the antithesis of dressed-up dining. Which, if you share our feelings about a meal out, will be a big tick for you as well. The problem until now, though, has been that Mocan is so dressed down that it didn't get around to a wine list. When there was a posh convenience store a few doors down you good buy booze then, and when that closed down we resorted to pleading with a nearby restaurant to sell us a bottle from their wine list, which is probably not strictly allowed. It was all a bit unsatisfactory, especially if a bottle of wine is too much to get through.
But there is now a wine list - and it's very good in its own teeny way. Seven whites, six reds, a pet nat and a prosecco, and a dessert wine, or a Capital Brewing beer, a Canberra gin and a Tasmanian whiskey. This focus is to be commended. It's confident, modern and to the point, with most of the wines offered by the glass. Oddly, though, no Canberra district wines on our visit - although a couple of weeks later a Ravensworth is there which, again, is a very good thing. If you're choosing a local, this is the one.
The menu is likewise succinct. And again, this works for us. But tonight we are two, so a menu listing about five small dishes and a similar number of larger dishes works fine - you can order half the menu and you will be well fed. We discover, though, that brief menus can be more tricky for larger groups. When there are five of us a few weeks later, you have to double up on dishes. Which would be unremarkable in a restaurant where everyone gets their own plate of food, but here sharing is encouraged. Actually a little more than encouraged. The dishes only arrive one at a time. Good for couples, but ungainly in bigger groups, especially as these aren't large platters of food, they're small careful dishes that don't lend themselves to dividing multiple ways.
Anyway, tonight we're two. We're perched on big rough wooden beams in a small room, with leather, cool low lighting, a look of green marble and copper. It's a lovely aesthetic, intimate, albeit playing from the same song sheet as the lobby of Hotel Hotel in the same precinct. Using four by twos stacked haphazardly on top of each other is frankly a weird idea, but the huge wooden beams are good-looking and, in a home-construction mood, we're entertained by investigating the fastener-free technique. The music is very low key and cruisy. The place is so small scale that you feel like you're in someone's kitchen, which actually you are, since the two guys cooking are doing it an one bench in front of you, and the guy serving, who might also be an owner, also has the job of taking things in and out of the dishwasher which is also right there in the room. It's deconstructed to the extreme. And all of this spareness in the kitchen means the food also remains simple, presumably partly by necessity.
Ortiz anchovy, pickled eschalots, parsley comes as thin slices of toast ($4 each) topped with one fat salty anchovy, a few rounds of pickle, a few capers and herb - very simple, also fresh bitey and delicious.
Tuna, horseradish, mayo, ponzu, chorizo crumb ($22) is slices of dark tuna sliced with a bit of substance, not super thin, It's charred on the crust but otherwise raw. With the horseradish sauce and sticks of radish adding a bit of heat, and a bacon flavour from the chorizo "crumb", it's a muscly dish.
Octopus, baby leek with saffron aioli ($20) is good, understated like everything else here. The octopus is soft, meaty and genuinely itself. It's pretty but I'm annoyed about the aoili being dotted all over instead of in one pile, and likewise the ponzu sauce. It's a haute presentation in a restaurant lovable for its simple humility. But the heat and citrus from the ponzo is good, the octopus is nicely handled without resorting to the chargrill and salt to give it flavour, the leek is soft and gentle, and there are monster pickled capers chopped in half.
Crookwell steak tartare ($24) is a dish we order every time we come here. The dish is mild, not overdone with palate-destroying heat and onion, just a simple plate of chopped raw steak with its egg and capers, with a cup of pureed jalapeno chillies and a bowl of thin salty toasts. It speaks of the delicate sensibility in the kitchen here.
Bitter leaves, fennel, pear, walnuts and pecorino ($14) is a really good salad, generously dressed, although it's a little weird having this come alone as its own dish, especially when we're with a bigger group.
Eating our way through most of the menu, it's time for lemon curd, Italian meringue, shortbread crumb. This is deconstructed which makes me think, must you? But again, we like it a lot. The swirls of soft-meringue, blow-torched, are each nestled beside a blob of curd, not too sweet, with a flat meringue wafer and a biscuit crumb.
With its good wine list and lovely relaxed touch in the open kitchen, Mocan and Green Grout is a firm favourite.
Address: 19 Marcus Clarke Street, New Acton
Phone: 6162 2909
Hours: From 7am Monday to Saturday and from 8am on Sundays. Dinner from 6pm Tuesday to Saturday.
Owner: David Alcorn
Chef: Federico Ferrario
Vegetarian: Good options
Noise: No problem at all
Wheelchair access: Yes
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